I posted the poem “I’m just a farmer, plain and simple” by Bobby Collier a little while ago as a tribute to a friend’s grandpa. The blog post has amazed me. It resonates with a lot of people who read my blog and it’s drawn others in thanks to web searches, etc.
The idea of “just a farmer” is something that a word person like myself gives a lot of thought to. It isn’t the farmer part that gives me such pause — I know a lot of farmers and think it is an incredible profession. These are the men and women who provide the food, feed, fiber and fuel that power our nation and certainly have powered my professional life. So I give the farmer part a decent amount of thought. It is really the just in “just a farmer” that catches my attention.
I hear it a lot. “I’m just a simple farmer.” Or maybe “I just grow….” When the words are spoken by a farmer, they invoke a humility that is frequently missing. I mean how many times have you heard someone say “I’m just a politician” or “I’m just a plastic surgeon?” I know, I have heard similar things from other professions and usually they are from people who’s jobs are taken for granted. Teaching is one.
Humility is one thing that I have always appreciated in the farmers I talk to — it is probably one of the characteristics that makes farmers most accessible to me and others who were not raised in agriculture.
But building the perception among others that your profession is somehow less than another is unacceptable. (And yes, I would also suggest that in anyway holding your profession up as superior to others is unacceptable as well.) And in the case of farming, when we have less than two percent of the U.S. population engaged in agriculture, I would suggest it is damaging to our industry’s best interests.
Farmers have experience that makes them experts in a number of areas:
- Nobody knows a field better than the farmer who’s family has called that land home.
- There is a depth of knowledge about environmental science, mechanics, chemistry, engineering and more that makes farming highly technical.
- Business acumen is required — you need to know people (ones you hire, work for, supply products to, etc.), there is accounting work to be done, records to be kept about your farm practices, etc.
- Vision based on where we’ve been and where we are going. And this is the one that leaves me interested because farmers need a long-term view to help us get where we are going with demands for certain crops, etc.
So what am I saying? I don’t want to suggest farmers become boastful but I would say that the sense of pride farmers feel from producing the food that we all eat is reason to hold your heads high and choose words more carefully at times. The reality is everyone needs a reminder about the fantastic work you do, so if someone asks you about your farm, hold your head up and tell your story. No need to wait for the invite either, tell your story to the folks you interact with frequently — the folks at church, in your kid’s school, at a civic club or wherever.
If someone else is claiming to tell your story or the story of American farmers as if there is only one, take a little time and personally tell your story — especially if you have another perspective as the diversity of our ranks is incredible and should be highlighted. Most of the farmers I know wouldn’t think to tell someone else how to farm. But telling your story is about sharing your perspective and it becomes , but we need to be telling our stories just the same. We aren’t defending against the others, if people are farming, there is no reason to be adversarial — we need all hands on deck to feed our families, communities and the world.
It’s just a word I know…. and it represented the way my dad felt about the work he did too, but by showing that humility, I think some people who don’t know better think it refers to importance. And since that’s the case, I’ve never met a woman or man who was just a farmer! I’ll have to tackle that plain and simple thing another day! Or I may let it rest.